69 of 92 people found the following review helpful
"An Important Debate",
This review is from: Is Christianity Good for the World? (Hardcover)This book reproduces an insightful and spirited recent debate between Christopher Hitchens and Douglas Wilson over what Dostoevsky called the Eternal Questions: What is the real nature of the universe in which we find ourselves? What are the ultimate bases of reason and ethics? Are there any ultimate sanctions governing human behavior? Though Hitchens is always worth reading for his quick wit and frequently surprising arguments, unfortunately in this debate he does not come off at his best. While graciously conceding that Hitchens has clean hands, Wilson wielding a very fine knife shows that Hitchens, sad to say, doesn't have any hands to begin with.
Hitchens is of the view that the universe is the accidental consequence of swirling particles, claiming that his reason has led him to this conclusion. Wilson, in the style of C.S.Lewis, points out that if the world outside Hitchen's head is given over wholly to such irrational chemical processes, the world inside Hitchens' head can be no differently composed, and that what Hitchens refers to as "rational argument" has been "arbitrarily dubbed" so.
Similarly, if there are no ultimate, objective standards in ethics, then despite Hitchens rhetorical maneuverings, what follows is what Dostoevsky's Ivan pointed out long ago: there is no "good" or "bad for "everything's permitted." Hitchens' "fulminations" against assorted zealots are, as a result, also merely arbitrary.
To dispute the necessity of a God behind the Big Bang, Hitchens, with unusual complacency, rests his case on the principle called Ockham's Razor, the argument that it's bad logic to multiply entities. The problem here is that Ockham's Razor is at best a rule of thumb, never a guarantee of a royal road to truth in any particular case.
On the other side, the weakest part of Wilson's case, in my view, is his failure to address the idea that the necessity for ultimate sanctions does not lead to the existence of a particular God, much less the God of Christianity. His arguments in the present debate end, in fact, at a considerable distance from either conclusion, though Wilson seems unaware of this shortcoming.
Both men agree that it's possible in behavior for a person to be a righteous, ethical atheist. What is missing in their presentation here, however, is what can be found in Shakespeare's addition to the ending of the pagan story of King Lear. It will be remembered that the character of Cordelia is so ethically fine that Elizabethans would have dubbed her a "natural Christian." She is murdered, almost gratuitously, at play's end, and her distraught father cradles her broken body in his arms, a pieta whose meaning has yet to make any sense in the world of brutal men. The play's argument, I'd claim, supports Hitchens in his view that one can be a fine person without a Redeemer God yet on the scene. It also supports Wilson in his sense that ethics are not enough to make life bearable, since very often "the virtuous miscarry and the wicked prosper." If there is no Redeemer - though ways can be found to hedge on this - ultimately there is no Justice, and in Paul's words "we are the most miserable of creatures." Human life becomes mere history, filled with bad luck but lacking any meaningful, tragic dimension. How much interest one has in the need of a Redeemer rests finally on how much poignancy one senses in existence.
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Showing 1-10 of 25 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Sep 27, 2008 9:38:31 PM PDT
Christopher Hallsted says:
A lot of reviews are followed by a comment exclaiming their brilliance. But this review really l;ows my mind. How do you get such insight? I'm filled with blood envy.
Posted on Sep 28, 2008 6:27:43 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on Sep 28, 2008 6:29:36 AM PDT
Beautiful, and fair-minded analysis of a fraught and polarizing and ancient debate. And the Lear reference is perfection, the proverbial icing on the cake. It is amazing how Shakespeare can frame the Question in such a way that it satisfies both poles of the argument, without incoherence. So too with Mr. Nemeth's review.
Parenthetically, Hitchens is always a pleasure to read, whether I am in agreement with him or not. It is no wonder his idol is Orwell, a scourge to the ideological extremes. I can even forgive him being one of the last of a dead breed, a Trotskyite!
Posted on Sep 28, 2008 12:10:32 PM PDT
Mark Blackburn says:
What a review! Erudite and beautifully-written -- a pleasure to read (and savor, a second time!) Your inclusion, by way of enlightening example, of Shakespeare's "Cordelia" from "the pagan story of King Lear," is -- quite simply -- brilliant.
Left a "helpful" vote (hope it shows up, for a change!). Just had to say "attaboy" and --keep writing the fine reviews, Stanley H. Nemeth.
Mark B. of the pagan North
Posted on Sep 28, 2008 8:07:53 PM PDT
[Deleted by Amazon on Nov 16, 2009 3:10:51 PM PST]
In reply to an earlier post on Oct 1, 2008 6:28:36 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Oct 2, 2008 6:19:28 PM PDT
Given Hitchens positvely Churchillian (and by Churchill I mean Randolph) capacity for drink, its a wonder he is as coherent as he is. I read a New Yorker profile of him a couple of years ago, where he made no secret of his colossal intake, and his wife chimed in that his chain-smoking continues while he takes a shower. A life long smoker myself, this last detail positively put me in awe of him. Even I have never smoked in the shower.
In reply to an earlier post on Oct 1, 2008 9:46:37 PM PDT
[Deleted by Amazon on Nov 16, 2009 3:10:51 PM PST]
In reply to an earlier post on Oct 2, 2008 6:19:11 PM PDT
It's not really ad hominem, I think Hitchens is rather pleased with sassing rehab-conscious Yanks with his non-stop boozing and smoking.
I was rather touched however by Hitchens' post-9/11 adoption of US citizenship. His book reviews in The Atlantic Monthly, not confined to matters political, are often enjoyable.
Posted on Oct 24, 2008 4:05:33 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Oct 24, 2008 4:13:59 PM PDT
"Rocky Raccoon" says:
What a remarkably cogent and coherent presentation you've made, Mr. Nemeth, about a timeless topic! Although not entirely germane to your subject here, I thoroughly enjoyed Ben Stein's recent DVD release, 'Expelled...,' which debates :"Intelligent Design" and the ostracized scientists who even bring up the topic. I wonder if you'd seen it, and if so, what you think of it? It's a wonder we get on these Amazon pages someone, like yourself, who has the solid, old-fashioned writing skills, reminiscent of the great Samuel Johnson. Great review. :>)
PS Congratulations on your new Top 1,000 reviewer badge. It's been long overdue.
In reply to an earlier post on Oct 24, 2008 5:10:32 PM PDT
[Deleted by Amazon on Nov 16, 2009 3:09:53 PM PST]
In reply to an earlier post on Oct 25, 2008 7:19:53 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on Oct 25, 2008 7:47:24 AM PDT
"Rocky Raccoon" says:
Ghost(Ghost(M)) [Ghost of Marat--possibly, why not Robiespierre?] wrote:
":D If you can't beat them, join them, right, JP? :-) Btw, you've been neglecting the epochal works of literary and film critique that Maestro Harp has been pumping out. Why is that? You didn't desert the man when he's down (quite a bit down, 99% of his votes have disappeared, but now, so what? you _know_ he's great, or, at least, did at some point)... You didn't betray the Maestro, did you? :-)"
I answer that: I do follow The Harriet Klausner Appreciation Society. I find it informative, especially regarding Amazon gossip. I've learned a great deal about Steve Guardala, Chancery Stone, et al, from your group. I've sometimes wanted to comment, but I'm almost certain you'd know who I am, and I didn't know if you'd accept me as a member since I have made positive comments on Grady's reviews in the past. I would be up-front if you didn't figure out my identity by my e-mail address, though. I wouldn't want to be presumptive either.
As soon as I saw the changes Amazon made, I soon went to HKAS to see what your take was. Even though there has been only one posted article in a month, I knew one would soon follow. I enjoyed the delight you all took for your Amazon "French Revolution" of sorts. You have all shown great initiative--two years I believe it was stated--to reach this new day. I still stand by my comments for all of my Amazon friends. I don't always agree with them, but I generally find something true and positive to say on everyone's reviews upon which I comment, except for nihilists. I don't know if Grady would want me commenting here or not. I haven't asked him. Occasionally, I contact him privately, but never in plain view. There are too many repurcussions. I'm glad he invited me as an Amazon friend, though, and I'll never seek asylum by giving up the names of other Grady supporters a la the McCarthy era.
As far as the changes go, I don't mind it if Amazon has taken away alliance voting to take away "stuffing the ballot box" as long as they also eradicate negative alliances, too. I selfishly wish that they would have started this policy when I began because one of their reasons for implementing this policy is to help newcomers to get established and open the review forum to all. It's hard to get established. I review for enjoyment and don't plan, to paraphrase Ken O'Connell, to be the next Gene Siskel. Unlike you, I do care about my ranking, but I know you care about others' rankings because Harriet, Grady, et al., have been the objects of your vision of social justice.
I get a lot out of reading others' reviews. As a graduate with a B.A. in English, I find Stanley's prose to be dazzling. He constantly reminds me of Samuel Johnson in his wit and elegance. I enjoy his references, too. By the way, I think Dante's Virgil is another good model of pagan virtue. I'd like to lend that to the discussion. Except I must add that limbo has gone just there. It doesn't exist any more. It was a convenient addition to a theological question, never fully made into dogma and dropped when it became no longer necessary. Goodness can come to many people who cannot name its origin.
Anyway, I did say that I thought Stanley was a modern day Samuel Johnson a while back after one of his earlier reviews before making it became a timely for today, victor-of-the-spoils congratulatory telegraph. It's my assessment of Stanley, and I'm sticking to it! And I don't wish to be repaid. ;>)
***PS And, you're right, "As long as there's an England, there will always be a J.P.'s Picks." Er, something like that.